When we talk about the San Francisco 49ers defense, it starts with the pass rush and how dominant the team was in 2019 against the pass. Their run defense was above average, but opposing offenses struggled to move the ball through the air. While legendary defensive line coach Jim Washburn believes the addition of Javon Kinlaw will improve the run defense, it’s the Niners’ stinginess against the pass that will make this unit special.
The Athletic went through and ranked the toughest schedules for each team based on the opposing QB tiers, and the 49ers have the seventh-toughest schedule:
7. San Francisco 49ers
Opposing QB average: 2.49
Jimmy Garoppolo’s average: 2.78
Opponents by Tier: T1: 4 | T2: 2 | T3: 8 | T4: 2
Counting playoffs, the 49ers went 4-1 last season against the top three quarterbacks on their schedule in 2020, including 1-1 against Wilson, 2-0 against Rodgers and 1-0 against Brees. The only defeat was in overtime. NFC West newcomer Kyler Murray could make the in-division schedule tougher. He averaged more than 10 yards per attempt in a 28-25 defeat to San Francisco last season.
Depending on how you view each quarterback, the 49ers could be ranked higher or lower. Carson Wentz was a Tier 2 quarterback, but it feels like he’s more Jekyll and Hyde than consistently good. Goff was a Tier 3 quarterback, but I wouldn’t put him there. I also wouldn’t put Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, or Daniel Jones in the third Tier, because they didn’t prove to be that good. On the flip side, Cam Newton, with Josh McDaniels, does scare me.
Wilson will always be a headache so long as he’s on the field. Brees and Kyler won’t be easy outs, as we saw last season. Brees added a familiar face in Emmanuel Sanders, while Murray now has DeAndre Hopkins.
These aren’t just the quarterback versus the 49ers defense, though. You have to block the Space Jam Monstars, aka the defensive line. Teams didn’t have a whole lot of luck doing so in 2019. If you do, you have to get open against one of the faster back-7’s in the NFL. What makes San Francisco so tough is its a disciplined unit. Most of the big plays were outliers last year, which is a big reason I believe the 49ers will continue to be one of the better pass defenses in 2020. They’re fast, they’re smart, and they are sound.
Cornerback remains an open competition, but I wouldn’t look at the position as a weakness. With K’Waun Williams out, Jimmie Ward has slid down into the slot. Whoever starts opposite Richard Sherman will have earned it. The 49ers face some talented quarterbacks, but most offenses won’t be equipped to handle what the Niners throw at them in a team sport. It’ll be fun to keep track of which type of quarterbacks do have success this season. Will it be the more athletic quarterbacks like Murray and Wentz, or will it be the Brees’ of the world who are more surgical?